The executive director of the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce announced her retirement at a card exchange Thursday night at Stonegate Bank.
Lisa Benton, who took the executive director position in September 2005, will retire on March 31.
"It has been a great experience working with the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, particularly getting to know the business community and individuals," Benton said. "My goal from day one was to let our community know that the chamber was here for them. It is the center for networking and for building strength in Pine Island business relationships."
After Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Benton announced her retirement at the card exchange Thursday night at Stonegate Bank, she laughed with the crowd. Her last day will be March 31.
After she was handed a bouquet of flowers and hugged a couple of people, she told the crowd who gathered at the bank Thursday night that retiring was not an easy decision for her to make, but it was time to focus on herself and family.
"I am going to miss everyone," Benton said, adding that she is not going away. "I plan to volunteer on the side."
She said she will continue to be active with the chamber as an individual member.
Benton moved to Pine Island in October 2002 from Birmingham, Ala., and was elected to the Pine Island Chamber Board in January 2003.
Before coming to Pine Island, she was a high school French teacher and guidance counselor, along with a child welfare social worker for 10 years in Birmingham. Her career path then took her on the journey of being a travel consultant starting in Birmingham in 1995, which continued with Pine Island Travel when she moved to the island.
As a Pine Island resident, she was the madame of the Matlacha Hookers and continues to be an active member of the group, along with being the president of the Kiwanis Club where she remains to be an active member to this day.
During her time as an executive director, Benton helped increase the chamber membership to more than 300 members, orchestrated new landscaping at the chamber in 2010-2011 and expanded the newsletter to include business bitz, business 2 business and mystery business.
Benton hopes to spend more time in her mountain retreat, volunteer in the community on both Pine Island and in Georgia, expand her garden and spend more time with friends and family once retirement begins.
Many of the members from the business community, as well as residents of the island, said they will miss Benton after she retires.
"Having been an officer/director of the chamber prior to Ms. Lisa, I really appreciate the many attributes she brought to the chamber," Bernard Johnson, owner of Berts Bar and Berts Pine Bay Gallery, said. "Her first imprint was her organizational skills. From there, she was able to assist the officers with executing their functions. And then, with her at the lead, we were able to complete projects that benefited all our members. Finally, Ms. Lisa was able to take our GPICC message and island story to other chambers in the area, to the county and to Tallahassee."
He said she will be missed.
Cynthia Welch, innkeeper of Bokeelia Tarpon Inn and owner of Paradise Gardens, said Benton's southern charm and low-key efficiency will be hard to replace.
"The epitome of a Southern lady keeping the Pine Island Chamber on track," she said.
Rita Appel, who retired in 2006, began volunteering at the Chamber of Commerce once a week. She said Benton has been the only director that she has known since she began donating her time.
"It has been a wonderful experience in total," Appel said. "I personally will miss her. I will continue to go on volunteering I will miss that weekly contact with her. She is a very nice person to work with."
She said she has been an assistant to a lot of people over the years and Benton has been one of the best employers.
Jay Johnson, past president of the chamber, said he has worked with Benton for at least the past seven years. He said during his presidency Benton really supported him in everything he needed to do to perform the functions while he was the president.
"It was great," he said. "She is just a fantastic person. She did an excellent job in promoting the chamber, island and businesses on the island. She was always upbeat and she represented the island well."
Johnson said that the board of directors will meet and make a decision on what the duties of the person will encompass in regards to who they hire, along with what profile they will be looking for as the new executive director. He said after the board of directors meets in the near future, a job description will be made and interviews will begin.
"She is going to be missed immensely," he said. "I think it is going to be difficult to find a replacement that has all the qualities that Lisa had. However, there is someone out there somewhere that will step up and do a fantastic job."
A reception in Benton's honor will be held sometime in April.